“Are you girls ready to set off?” Hallie asked. The three painted faces looked up to her in anticipation.
“Definitely!” Millicent nodded eagerly. “It already puts us at a disadvantage that the other two groups left already!”
“It’s not a race, Millie,” Sigrid reminded her friend gently.
“No… but that doesn’t mean we can’t win it!” Millicent insisted.
Hallie decided that it might both her and the children some good to celebrate the Day of the Dead this autumn. While this was something that had never been seen in Newcrest before, the whole family gave Hallie a hand in decorating the town cemetery, and some of them were even helping her out tonight, keeping track of all the kids.
“Sigrid’s right, Millie.” Hallie told Millicent. “Tonight is not about winning. It’s about celebrating the dead. We’ll all go to the cemetery and make an offering to those who have passed on, so that they know we haven’t forgotten. And perhaps they’ll give us a blessing in return. Tonight is the only night when the dead and the living come together, all in one big celebration. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
“Only if we win,” Millie muttered under her breath.
Alexus had been quiet that evening. She wasn’t sure who she should be commemorating that night. Unlike the other children, she never had parents on this planet. For all she knew, her alien parents could still be alive, somewhere on a planet far away from here. All she was aware of was that she’d been found, already disguised and her memory blank, and that she never told a single soul what actually hid behind her mask.
Funnily enough, tonight, she was wearing a mask on top of that mask. And everyone else’s faces were painted too. There was something nice about all of them being the same in that respect. Perhaps she couldn’t quite appreciate what they were celebrating, but she could feel that the night was special.
And more importantly, she actually felt like she belonged. That on its own was worth celebrating.
Meanwhile, Eun and Donnel, who were accompanied by Yenn, had just reached the cemetery. They all stopped in front of the skeleton couple by the entrance.
“Look how neat the cemetery looks at night!” Eun exclaimed. “I can’t wait to go in and investigate! Do you think we’ll be able to gather any evidence of afterlife?”
Eun’s inner scientist already seemed to be conducting experiments…
“Err, I hope not.” Donnie said nervously. “Maybe we should just stay outside. I wouldn’t want to disturb anyone, uh, in there.”
“Oh come on! Wouldn’t be amazing if we were the ones to actually prove that paranormal activity is happening here?” Eun insisted.
Donnie could think of several other words that would be a lot more fitting than amazing.
“Don’t worry, Donnie,” Yenn said. “The spirits will know we’re coming to honour them, not to disturb them. Besides, look at all the colours! It’s not scary, is it?”
“Um, I don’t know…”
“How about I go in first then?” Yenn opened the gate with a smile.
The boys followed right after her.
“See? Nothing to be scared of!” Yenn confirmed. The cemetery was filled with lights and colours.
And to Donnie’s relief and Eun’s disappointment, there were no ghosts to be seen.
“Now then, making an offering to those who passed away is something quite personal,” Yenn told them. “So why don’t you each both find the grave you’d like to honour, and I’ll meet you here at the entrance when we’re all done.”
Yenn herself had a particular grave in mind, of course. She’d known most of those who were buried here, but there was one person she’d never fail to visit, every time she’d be stopping by.
“Ethan, so here we are again,” she kneeled beside his tombstone. “I cannot believe I’m still here. Alive. That we’re still separated by that wall. I really thought that it wouldn’t be long until I get to see you, but it seems my time among the living is still not over.”
She shook her head, letting out a deep sigh.
“Sometimes I’m scared I’ll never get to join you,” she whispered.
“But what do I know. There’s a reason why I’m still hanging around, isn’t there? They still need me. I shouldn’t be impatient. One of these days, the time will be right. And we’ll finally be together again.”
The tombstone lit up in an ethereal glow. Yenn stood up in awe.
She’d released Ethan’s spirit many, many years ago. She knew that he hadn’t been attached to the grave for several lifetimes, and yet, she’d still come talk to him here.
But now, seeing the stone light up, she wasn’t so sure if he really couldn’t hear her. Perhaps she hadn’t been talking to herself. Perhaps…
A smile spread across her face. What did she know. Even having lived and died, and lived again, the great mysteries of life and death would always be something even she couldn’t comprehend.
She decided to have a little walk around the graveyard, to say hi to the Bloomer ancestors around as well.
Donnie ad discovered one of the Bloomer graves already. But it was unlike any of the other tombstones. Alien. The more he looked at it, the more he was sure of it.
He found it heartbreaking that an alien would end up buried here, so far from their home. Or was Newcrest their home after all? How would an alien end up on this very planet, out of all of them?
He decided that that was the tomb he wanted to make his offering to. He hoped the alien’s spirit was back in space, where it belonged.
“Or if you aren’t, I hope you go to back to the stars now.” he whispered pointing upwards.
A warm feeling surrounded him. Hopefully, the deceased alien was happy, wherever they were.
As for Donnie, he was left to wonder. If there could be an alien grave in Newcrest, chances were that the alien who had once lived here was not the only one. Could there be aliens in town still?
He wanted to share the theory with other kids. Perhaps Eun would be interested. Although Donnie probably didn’t have enough evidence to support the idea for Eun’s liking. They’d all just laugh at him. Well, maybe Alexus wouldn’t, Donnie decided. She was far too nice to mock anyone for even the most outlandish of ideas. Perhaps he could tell her.
Not too far away, another group was getting ready for their walk to the cemetery.
“Lorcan!” Sera greeted the man, trying not to give too much of her excitement away. “So Hallie roped you into this as well, I see?”
“It would appear so. That’s what friends are for, right?” Lorcan confirmed. “Looks like you’re stuck with me again, in case you weren’t already fed up with seeing me at the retreat every day.” He laughed.
“I could imagine worse,” Sera smiled slightly. “You’re not the kind of person people get fed up with seeing, you know.”
Especially me, she thought. She was more than happy to see Lorcan outside of the retreat for once. If it was up to her, she’d see a lot more of him…
“Ugh, this is boring,” Camden interrupted the grown ups. “Can we go now?”
“Of course,” Lorcan said.
“Actually, I don’t think we need them.” Marla told her friend. “They’re just slowing us down.”
“Good thinking,” Camden decided. “Let’s go!”
The two of them ran off towards the cemetery entrance.
“Seems that we’ve been rejected!” Sera laughed. “I guess we should still follow them from afar…”
“We should.” Lorcan nodded. “Besides, we need to make an offering too. Let’s catch up!”
He grabbed her hand, as if by reflex.
Their hands only touched for a brief moment, though it felt as if the time had slowed down to Sera. Lorcan looked at her, realising what he’d done, and he quickly let go.
She wished he hadn’t. Or that she had the courage to tell him that. But she was afraid that acknowledging the moment would make it fall to pieces. So she didn’t bring it up.
They headed towards the gate.
Marla and Camden already entered the cemetery.
“Woah, look at all the skeleton ladies!” Marla exclaimed.
For a moment, Camden grew pensive. He wondered if the graveyard his parents were buried at was also this colourful tonight. He was afraid it might not be. But…
“Hey!” Marla interrupted. “You’re not turning soft on me, are you?”
Camden snapped out of it. “Me? Soft?”
He crept over to her. “See, I think you’re the one who’s soft! Or worse, are you getting scared? Boo!”
“I think you’re just trying to change the topic!” She pointed right at him. “Well it’s not going to work on me! You’re a big softie!”
“Nuh uh, you are! After all, you’re the girl!”
“The girl? What’s that supposed to mean! I can be a girl and still be way tougher than you!” Marla pushed him angrily.
“Oh yeah? You wanna see who’s tough?” He pushed her back.
“I think you fight like a girl!”
“That’s because I can’t shove a girl with all of my strength!”
“What’s going on here, guys?” Hallie separated the brawling pair. “You remember where we are? And why? We’re supposed to be honouring the dead, not yelling our lungs out in their home…”
“Right. Sorry.” Camden put his head now.
“Girl,” Marla mouthed.
The two of them begrudgingly sat down by the nearest grave to make their offering.
“Blah blah, abracadabra…” Marla muttered. “What are we meant to do again?”
“You’re really not into this Day of the Dead stuff, huh?” Camden looked at her.
“No.” Marla agreed. “I think it’s silly. Our parents are gone. None of this will change that. I think what matters more is who’s here now. Like you. You’re family now.”
She stood up, growing impatient.
“Woah, I think the tombstone just wiggled!” Camden yelled out.
Marla turned around. “You’re lying.” She said doubtfully.
“Why would I lie?” The boy tilted his head. “You’re family. Maybe there is something to this whole thing, you know.”
Marla smiled, deciding to humour him. “Maybe.”
“Hey Camden… I’m glad we met.” She told him. “You’re my best friend.”
The hugged briefly.
“Who’s a softie now?” Camden teased as they made their way out.
Hallie followed them out, making sure they make it back to the orphanage in one piece. Camden and Marla may not have been the most spiritual of the bunch, but she was glad that they had each other, and that they were both dealing with their loss in their own way too.
The graveyard was now empty, aside from Sera and Lorcan, who lingered.
“We still haven’t made that offering,” Sera looked around uncertainly.
“True.” Lorcan said. “I didn’t know anybody who’s buried here. Any particular person you’d like to honour?”
“Hm… can’t go wrong with the legacy founder, right?” Sera figured. She’d never been too sentimental about their family history, but how could she not admire the person who started it all?
“So… how does this work?” Sera asked Lorcan as they kneeled by the grave. He was the one that was more in tune with this kind of thing, after all.
“It’s not science.” He said. “Just do whatever feels right.”
They laid flowers at the grave and sat in silence.
Sera looked at the one right next to the Kirk Bloomer’s. Maranda Bloomer, it read. Wife, mother, friend, and much more.
She didn’t know much about the founder’s wife, other than that she’d spent her life by his side, and that they both passed away from old age at the very same time. They must have been true soulmates, she thought. She hoped that one day, she’d get as lucky as them and find hers.
And deep down, while she was scared to admit this even to herself, she’d hoped that she already had found hers, and that he was sitting next to her.
A flash of blinding light surrounded them. Sera could almost feel the warmth of love and wisdom the legacy founders had once possessed. And then it was gone.
“Did you see that!?” She jumped up, staring at Lorcan. “Did you feel that? I’m not crazy, right?” She asked.
“You’re not crazy,” Lorcan reassured her. “Something did happen. You must have really connected with the spirits. If that was not their response, I don’t know what would be…”
“Do you think they… agreed with me?” Sera managed to ask. She was glad the darkness concealed her blushing.
“Did you ask them a question?” Lorcan looked into her eyes. “I’m not sure if the dead can exactly answer questions, to be completely honest. But I do think they can help us realise what we already know.”
Sera beamed. She’d take that.
They decided to sit down for a while to process what just happened – it’s not every day one has an encounter with those from the netherworld.
Though they didn’t just stick to talking about tonight’s experience. Soon, they found themselves chatting about the retreat and how it could be improved. About why Sera wanted to build it in the first place. And about Lorcan’s trip to Granite Falls where he realised how life-changing yoga and meditation could be…
“I could see everything so clearly that day,” Lorcan reminisced. “The lake, the mountains, the birds flying around… that was when I realised we were all a part of this giant organism. And that by helping others find peace, I can find some too. Because we’re one. Anyway… I’m ranting. And the sun is rising already. You’re just too easy to talk to, Seraphina.”
Sera laughed. “I’m pretty sure you’re the first person that’s said that! And you’re not ranting… it’s the opposite, really. I would love to hear more. You said a lot about your experience in Granite Falls, but you never really said what made you look for peace in the first place, or how you felt before… it’s hard for me to imagine you without your perfect equilibrium!”
“You should see me in the mornings, when I first wake up!” He laughed.
I’d love to, Sera thought. “Quit deflecting!” She said instead.
“There’s not much to tell,” he shrugged. “I was born with a bit of an explosive personality, and I’ve learned to control it, for the most part. It’s hardly much a story to tell.”
“Sorry,” Sera said quickly. “I didn’t mean to pry.”
“You weren’t prying,” Lorcan shook his head. “We’re friends. You shouldn’t feel like there’s something you can’t say to me.”
Except that what she wanted to say was that she didn’t want to be friends at all.
“Well, I’ve been pouring my heart out to you from the moment we met.” She told him instead. “Do you feel like you can say anything to me, though?”
“I know you have a big heart.” Lorcan said simply. Sera smiled. “Anyway, we should probably go.”
“I know… can you believe we’ve talked through the night?”
As they exited the cemetery, Sera noticed the sun was already shining brightly in the sky.
And for the first time in a long while, she felt like it was shining on her.